The USA took a dominating win in its quarterfinal, while El Tri squeaked by in theirs, putting even more light on El Tri's issues.The United States dismantled El Salvador 5-1 on Sunday to progress in style to the Gold Cup semifinals. Coming after Mexico’s hard-fought 1-0 victory against Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday, it puts into clear perspective that the Stars and Stripes are rightly now deemed the favorites to lift the trophy next Sunday at Soldier Field.
The chance of meeting the pantomime hate-figure of Landon Donovan in Chicago and his potential tormenting of Joel Huiqui, Juan Carlos Valenzuela et al cannot be appealing for El Tri or its fans. Donovan scored once against El Salvador, but had a hand in each one of his country’s goals, pulling the strings and pulling El Salvador's defense apart.
The rise of the Club Tijuana’s Joe Corona – who wore the Mexico shirt in an U-22 friendly back in September 2011 – highlights the positives that coach Jurgen Klinsmann is getting from this Gold Cup. Corona has really blossomed during the tournament and, if he continues, will not be far away from a starting place in upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
But he isn’t the only player to impress for the United States and over the longer term, the German legend will have some welcome, if difficult, selection decisions to make.
And the way Jurgen Klinsmann has mixed his selections up creatively by giving Stuart Holden, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco Fiscal and others minutes earlier in the tournament sets the U.S. up well for the semifinal against Honduras and potentially for the final.
On the Mexican side, out of the reserve squad that Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre brought to the Gold Cup, there have been few such positives.
Jonathan Orozco has reaffirmed, again, that he is a goalkeeper Chepo can trust, but with Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona leagues ahead of the Monterrey man in the pecking order, it is unlikely to make a difference in terms of helping the full national team.
Leon’s Luis Montes has scored one spectacular goal and his attitude has been exemplary, one of the few players to stand out for El Tri consistently. On the other wing, Marco Fabian has also impressed, but is yet to produce that kind of destructive performance Donovan did against El Salvador.
Fullbacks Miguel Layun and Adrian Aldrete also fit into the positive category, although it can hardly be said that they‘ve been tested against teams of really top quality. That will likely happen over the next week.
Elsewhere, there has been little to write home about and the Trinidad and Tobago game again showed the team is still not clicking. Improvements will need to happen to overcome Panama and win the tournament.
The midfield duo of Alejandro Castro and Carlos Pena both turned in below-par performances against T&T, and the poor form of Rafa Marquez Lugo – playing behind Raul Jimenez - is harming the creativity in the final third.
But Chepo came out and said he was happy with the improved performance and that winning by large margins – like the United States has done in three of its four games in the Gold Cup – is not easy.
“It’s difficult to get big victories,” said Chepo after the Trinidad game. “It wasn’t easy due to their strength, height and other things we explained.”
Ever the pragmatist, De la Torre added that the bottom line was El Tri advancing, but it can’t hide the cracks and the fact that whoever wins between Honduras and the United States will fancy its chances against Mexico, should it get past Panama.
Scoring early and putting a few past Los Canaleros – who defeated Mexico in the first game in the Gold Cup – on Wednesday would be the tonic and a necessary boost of confidence ahead of a potential showdown with the United States in the final.
As things stand, there is no doubt who the favorite will be if CONCACAF’s two giants do make the final, and it doesn’t play in green.